My Review of the 2009 New York Yankees
For years this team used to call Tropicana Field “Yankee Stadium South” when they into town for a series. But in the last few years, the Tampa Bay Rays have begun to take back their home stadium row by row until in 2008 you could hear both teams loud and proud in the stadium. So if you have not guessed by now, the third part of my review installment is on the” Evil Empire, the Bronx Bombers,” or simply “The Pinstripes” . Yes, it is time to try and review that team that everyone either loves or hates………the New York Yankees.
Part of that move back into greatness was to fully open the checkbook and get some of the players needed to dominate for years again. With some of the team aging, the Yankees needed to get the young stars who were about to either come out with a bang, or were currently the cream of the crop. After all was said and done, almost a half a billion dollars changed hands for a handful of budding superstars that could again take the pinstripes back to the playoff for the next 5 years. The three high priced free agents the team fought after did not come cheaply for the Yankees. With each player they had to trade and bid for their services again and again. But the Yankee mindset is not to lose at negotiations, and in the end, they got their players.
If you begin to write a review for 2009 for the Yankees, you have to start with their newly revised rotation. Now, who can argue that Carsten Charles Sabathia was the crown jewel of the Yankees’ off season pitching makeover. The man came with a price tag as big as his trousers, but he also came with the statistics to back it up. He will be the experienced ace of the Yankees revamped pitching staff, and might end up being the best investment the team has done in years. Sabathia is not just a power pitcher, but also an innings eater. His 253 innings in 2008 is not as impressive as his 251 strikeouts in those innings. To provide such a statistic that you have almost a strikeout an inning, and you pitched over 250+ innings is remarkable in any league. Sabathia throws three pitches effectively, and uses his change up, which breaks straight to fool hitters because of his great arm action.
Coming in at the number 2 slot for the Yankees is former Toronto pitcher A J Burnett. He also came to the Yankees after a bit of a battle, but decided to finally become a Yankee. His familiarity with the American League East hitters will be a premium for him in 2009. Because of his knowledge in the division, Burnett will already have a pitching style in place to combat each teams hitters. This will make his adjustment to the Yankees a bit easier. But Burnett also posted some great numbers in 2008. He pitched in 221 innings and struck out 231 batters last year. Burnett is mostly a power thrower, but his hard curve is his magic strike pitch. After an injury to his fingernail last year, he began to play more with his change-up, and got the pitch to sink and tail more throughout the season.
Coming back from an injury can bring with it loads of expectations and pressure. But Chien-Ming Wang has dealt with the pressure pretty well the last few season in New York. His injury, which caused him to miss the entire second half of the season played heavily on the Yankees failure to secure a playoff berth. Wang had been a consistent member of the pitching staff, but only was able to piece together 15 starts before his injury shelved him for the year. One of the greatest thing about Wang’s pitching style is that he relies on his sinkerball. His 2-seamer bores in on right-handers and sinks past lefties. His slider is average, but if thrown correctly can be a knee bender. He began to throw a splitter in 2008, and at times it looked like Jorge Posada was having difficulty with it. The pitch had a really late bite on the plate and made it a bit difficult in the last 3 feet to judge correctly all the time.
The top 3 pitchers in the staff have the experience starting games in the New York atmosphere either as a Yankee or a opponent. that will come in handy in 2009 when the new Yankee Stadium is opened and the roar of the crowd will seem to be a bit more focus towards the mound area. Joba Chamberlain did an effective job as one of the Yankees set-up men in 2007-2008. After two seasons of setting up for Mariano Rivera, he will take his spot in the rotation in 2009. Chamberlain appeared in 42 games last season, including 12 starts. The one question mark in my mind here is if the reliever can quickly adapt back to starting a game after two seasons in the Bullpen. Starting games has a different mentality than relieving, and will Chamberlain be able to make that transition smoothly before the season starts.
I think that he can become a great starter for the Yankees, but I will wait until the end of Spring Training to anoint him to the fourth spot. He seems to have the goods on the mound to transition without a hitch. In the last few years, he has used his fastball, which hits 95 mph and above to set up people for his unbelievable slider. Chamberlain has already been given a bit of a legend status as a pitcher even before he has effectively led the Yankees to the playoff promised land. Chamberlain used to use his change-up and curveball in the minors, but because of the dominance of his first two pitches, they are throw-in pitches to keep hitters honest at the plate.
Now we come to the fifth spot in the rotation. This player could also wind up in the fourth slot if Yankee Manager Joe Girardi wants to use him there. But in the fifth slot, he will face the opponents least experienced pitcher, which could play into a great Yankees mental game as they could dominate from the first pitch of the game. Yankee great Andy Pettitte is considered one of the great lefties to ever grace the mound. His 14-14 record last season is no indication of the magic he still can provide on the mound. He still tossed over 200 innings last year, and still has one of the best pick-off moves in the major leagues. Pettitte still relies heavily on his cutter, which resembles a slider and is effective in breaking bat when coming in on right-handers. His fastball is pretty straight, but his command of it can catch the corners at anytime. One of the pitches he has in his arsenal that if it is going great, he is almost unhittable is his curveball. It can take a nasty dip fast into the ground if it is popping at the right time for him that night.
The Yankees might have the luxury of keeping up Phil Hughes in 2009 as a long reliever and also an insurance policy if something should happen to a starter this season. Hughes, who will be throwing today against the Rays in Tampa, struggled with injuries himself last year. This might be the make it or break it year for Hughes, and a good Spring Training showing might get him a slot in the Bullpen as the long reliever for the team. The Bullpen will be the place where a majority of the Yankees game will be won or lost in 2009. Last season they were not the most effective Bullpen in the American League, and that might have cost them dearly before they got the ball to Rivera in the ninth inning.
Coming back in 2009 will be Damaso Marte, who has established himself as the Yankee leftie specialist in 2008, will be counted on more this season. Marte has always been a fastball/slider kind of pitcher and should see more action in 2009 with Chamberlain going to the rotation. Both David Robertson and Dan Giese will get chances early on to cement a spot in the Bullpen. Both pitchers throw mostly fastballs and curves, with Robertson having more velocity and a change-up to mix things up at times. Left-hander Phil Coke might be the guy to take Marte’s spot as the left-handed specialist in 2009. Coke throws a nice mid 90′s fastball and a slider that break heavy into the plate. Humberto Sanchez, who came back strong in 2008 after Tommy John’s surgery in 2007, should get a chance to again to sit in the Yankees Bullpen. Sanchez throws a nice moving fastball in the 90′s and has an effective 12-6 break curveball.
Jose Veras also might have a shot at making the Bullpen after a great 2008. Veras is a tall pitcher and uses his leverage to produce really good strikeout numbers as a professional. He also has a nice split-finger pitcher that tends to dip below bats. But his downfall might be that he is a high WHIP pitcher. Edwar Ramirez is another guy who might make a decision difficult for the Bullpen slots. Ramirez is basically only a two pitch guy, but he will occasionally mix in a tight slider to right-handers.
Jonathan Albaladejo is another right-hander who throws a great moving fastball and two breaking pitches. He has been great at mixing up his pitches, which includes a powerful boring fastball, and a slow bending curveball. His slider is his second breaking pitch, but in 2008, it stayed up in the strike zone too much. But the one guy who will not have to ever worry about a roster spot is closer Rivera. Even if he is approaching 40, the man is still one of the most effective closers in the game today. Was is more amazing is that he has basically thrown only the cutter in and out for most of his career. 85-90 percent of the time, you know you will see some sort of cutter to the plate. He does have a four-seam fastball that he uses up and in to right-handers. Simply put, if the game is on the line, you want this guy on the mound.
The Yankees outfield has taken a huge turn since the end of 2008. Left field will still be the home of trade deadline acquisition Xavier Nady who hit a solid .305 average with 25 homers and 97 RBI in 2008. This will be his first full season in the American League, and he is out to establish himself early on for his defense and throwing ability. Nady will occasionally share his position with Hideki Matsui, who had a wild injury plagued year and is looking to rebound in both the field and at Designated Hitter for the Yankees. Matsui had a down year with only 9 homers and 45 RBI last season. This year he reports to camp in shape and ready to play. Johnny Damon, who hit for a .303 average with 17 homers and 71 RBIs might be the man on the go this year.
Damon is actually expected to play at several positions during the season, which will include both first base and the outfield. But in center field, the Yankees will be holding their biggest battle for a spot in 2009. Melky Cabrera, who hit for .249 with 8 homers and 37 RBIs will be pushed heavily for his spot. Cabrera is trying to make the decision between him and Brett Gardner more difficult this spring. Gardner, who took over for a bit after Cabrera was sent to the minors, came on to hit only .228 in his 42 games up with the Yankees last season. These two players will be fighting it out as they are the only two who might be able to cover the massive outfield grasses of Yankee Stadium. There is a chance that Nick Swisher might be given a chance to take over right field for the Yankees since they signed Mark Teixeira to play first base. I think both him and Damon will get ample shots at manning the right corner in the new stadium this year. The outfield looks competitive with the rest of the American League East, but it is not the best athletic or most powerful in the division in 2009. They will get their licks in and might surprise you with their arm strength at times. But that might not stop the run happy teams in this division who tend to run on even good flamethrowers.
Coming into the infield, let start with the middle of the diamond. As we all know, Derek Jeter will again be manning the shortstop position for the Yankees. Last season he did not have a typical Jeter season, only hitting .300 average, with 11 homers and 69 RBI’s. Jeter’s defense has also slipped a notch in the last few years, but is still the cream of the crop in turning the double play and getting base runners out at second base on steal attempts. He is till considered the heart and soul of this team. And how he responds this year might be a good indicator of the Yankee mindset.There is talk of maybe seeking a younger shortstop in 2010 and Jeter maybe moving over to second base to make that position more solid for the team. But in the present time, Robinson Cano will be the man at second base for the Yankees, Cano hit .271 for the year with 14 homers and 72 RBIs. With the Yankee infield having such high expectations by fans, Cano seemed to take a small step back in 2008. It will be key to see him rebound this season and again post good number to even be considered for the spot in 2010.
On the corners is where the Yankees will store their power in 2009. Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez will see 162 games of critical opinions and cat calls, but should still put up monster numbers in 2009. Last season he did not produce as expected, but still hit .305 with 35 homers and 103 RBI’s. He is considered one of the sports best players, but will also be feeling the heat in 2009 after his steroid allegations and confession. The first few months should be a good barometer of how the pressure and the voices from the cheap seats bother Rodriguez. He might get out of the gate a bit slow, but as things die down, he will again dominate the right side of the infield both at the plate and on the field.
Coming into the Yankee fold after signing a huge off season contract is former Angel Mark Teixeira. He comes to the Bronx with the expectations of the team finally having another power alternative to Rodriguez. Texieira, who hit .302, with 35 homers and 103 RBI’s is considered one of the best first baseman in the game. As good as he is at the plate, Texieira has just as good reputation manning his defensive position. Texieira also bring into the Yankees fold the option of being a switch-hitter. This is something that the team has lack a lot of in the past few seasons.
But he is not the only switch hitter brought in for 2009. Nick Swisher will also see time at first base and maybe Designated Hitter. Swisher needs to improve on his average, which was only .219 last season, but he does have better than average power, and can be a pest on the base paths. In the area of catching, the Yankees hope that Jorge Posada’s shoulder is fully healed and he can get back to his 2007 form behind the plate. Another hot spot in 2008 was the absence of Posada behind the plate after he went down with a shoulder injury. He is getting up in age, and a move might be made in the next few years to get him time at D H or maybe first base, he has to cement the position for the Yankees in 2009. The team still has Jose Molina back in 2009, and with another year under his belt with the team, Molina’s biggest concern is to get better at bats and produce when he is in the game for the Yankees.
So there you have the possible members of the 2009 New York Yankees. Not only are they trying to reverse the trend of missing the playoffs for the first time last season, they will have to impress the fans in their new stadium. Add the pressure of the usual expectations and the increased vocal noise towards Rodriguez, this team will need to mesh fast and stay tight the entire year. A pretty injury-less season could be the key for this team. Even though their outfield and their Bullpen are not huge strengths this season. the infield corners and the starting pitching might be the difference this year. As I have stated all off season long, the American League East will be a war in 2009. With each team playing 18 times against each other in the season, the winner of the yearly series will probably have the hand-up for the division title. I can see this Yankees team win a minimum of 92 games if their starting pitching stay intact. It is now up to the Yankees to again either prove or fail in becoming one of the premier teams in the American League.